by Edith Cody-Rice
The Seven Gifts Project opened with flair on Sunday September 17 in Riverfront Park on Spring Street in Almonte. The bronze sculptures on their carved plinths will be there for current and future generations to enjoy and contemplate.
Now the preservation of the legacy begins. Two individuals intimately involved with that legacy are Sanjeev Sivarulrasa, owner of the Sivarulrasa Gallery on Mill Street in Almonte and Michael Rikley-Lancaster, executive director/curator of the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum.
Michael has attended a number of workshops learning about Indigenous people in order to organize projects involving them. He started attending events held by All My Relations through both professional and personal interest. As he explained, museums are tellers of history and it is appropriate that Indigenous people tell their own stories without the filter of more traditional European based lenses.
The role of the museum in this project will be to preserve the molds of the basswood carved sculptures by Nish Nabie should they ever be required to reproduce the bronze totems on display in Riverfront Park.
To Michael, this project in Mississippi Mills is the beginning of truth and reconciliation but we have a long way to go.
Sanjeev was approached by Sue Evans, a central figure in the project, asking what the gallery could do. Sanjeev was struck by the importance of this gesture towards reconciliation. In addition to displaying the basswood Nish Nabie sculptures now on display in his gallery, Sanjeev offered All My Relations advice on the treatment of artists. He states it is very important that artists be paid, not only for the initial artwork but for any public display thereafter. It is a matter, not only of livelihood but of respect. Sanjeev noted the Indigenous artists in particular, have tended to be underpaid, if paid at all.
Sanjeev is a member of CARFAC, a non-profit corporation that serves as the national voice of Canada’s professional visual artists, which sets a minimum recommended fee schedule for visual art works. With guidance from Sanjeev, All My Relations paid the artists for their work out of funds raised for the project. The carvings now belong to All My Relations, which though unincorporated, benefits from the legal framework of the St Paul’s Anglican Church which issues tax receipts for donations.
Sanjeev feels that, as a public art installation, the circle and carvings in River Front Park present a non- threatening and welcoming way to encourage visitors to think about the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. There is a lot of compassion in the arts.
Both Michael and Sanjeev feel that diversity is very important. Voices of Indigenous peoples, as well as other social minorities have always been present but have not always been listened to. This project is a way to make Indigenous voices visible and to help people to appreciate different perspectives. This is a big step forward on the path to inclusion: letting people speak in their own voices in an authentic way.
Michael stated that there are a lot missing voices in museums and he is working with the IBPOC (Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour) and 2SLGBTQIA+ (Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Intersexual, Asexual) community to tell their stories. Sanjeev agrees with this view. He is excited about the next stage in this story.